Dr. Ajay K. Dalai
Canada Research Chair in Bio-Energy and Environmentally-Friendly Chemical Processing
Every year, Canada consumes 40 billion litres of diesel fuel; world consumption is 700 billion litres. Diesel emissions contain high levels of oxides of nitrogen and sulphur, which contribute to air pollution and health problems. Dr. Ajay Dalai, Canada Research Chair in Bio-Energy and Environmentally-Friendly Chemical Processing, believes there’s a better way to fuel the engines of prosperity.
“Bio-diesel has properties of regular diesel but it’s bio-based, not hydrocarbon based. We react vegetable oil from canola and other oilseeds mixed with an alcohol to produce the fuel,” Dr. Dalai says. “The reason we do this is that government regulations call for the sulphur content in diesel to be reduced from 500 parts per million (ppm) to 15 ppm by 2006, to significantly reduce sulphur dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. But when you remove the sulphur, the lubricity of the diesel fuel is drastically reduced.”
Lubricity, or how slippery the fuel is, has a direct impact on engine longevity. Dr. Dalai, an Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering at the University of Saskatchewan, has been working closely with the Department of Mechanical Engineering, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Saskatchewan Canola Development Commission to create bio-diesel.
“We’ve found that if we add one per cent of bio-diesel to the regular diesel fuel, we can improve lubricity and engine longevity by 20 per cent. We and other researchers have found that adding canola methyl ester at a rate of 0.1-2 per cent can improve lubricity, reduce engine wear by 5-50 per cent and improve fuel economy anywhere from 3-10 per cent. Right now, bio-diesel costs 10 cents more per blended litre, so we are looking for ways to reduce that cost.”
Bio-diesel is one of many exciting research projects Dr. Dalai is pursuing in the Catalysis and Chemical Reactor Engineering Laboratories at the University.
“The major thrusts of our research are processing of heavy oil to produce conventional crude oil, and conversion of bio-mass to bio-energy,” he says. “It’s a thrust area all over the world to find cleaner fuel. When you burn hydrogen, for example, you basically get water so there’s no pollution. The challenge is how do we produce pure hydrogen cheaply.”
Dr. Dalai is researching several promising possibilities, including hydrogen production from carbon monoxide and water, and the production of hydrogen and synthesis gas, or ‘syngas’, from pulp and paper waste. He is also working on developing environmentally-friendly processing methods for improved, reformulated gasoline, a project for which he was recently honoured with the Petro-Canada Young Innovator Award.
“The impact of the research is tremendous in terms of combating pollution and finding alternate energy resources,” Dr. Dalai says. “The ultimate goal is to pilot test new products/processes and eventually commercialize them, but innovative research is needed in the laboratory before that can happen.”
Dr. Dalai’s remarkable successes are drawing interest from research institutes and universities around the world. He currently collaborates on different projects with the University of Calgary, National Research Council, Ottawa, Orenda Aerospace Corporation, Ottawa, Okayama University in Japan, Regional Research Laboratories and Indian Institute of Petroleum, India, as well as with Syncrude Canada Ltd., Imperial Oil Ltd., Petro-Canada Ltd. and Nova Chemicals Ltd.
The Canada Research Chair will allow Dr. Dalai to continue ground-breaking
research in environmentally-friendly processing and the conversion of
bio-mass to bio-energy. Ultimately, his contributions will help the world
breathe a little easier.